What is Employee Voice and How to Access It Effectively

Dara Fontein

7 minutes

With so many workers leaving their current jobs, employers are looking for any possible solution to keeping their employees happy and engaged. One key way they can achieve this? Making sure their employees feel heard.

To be successful, employers must provide a safe and positive space for the sharing of employee voice. Long gone are the days where employees sit quietly and do their work without sharing their insights, ideas, or opinions. Today’s workforce thrives on prioritizing and encouraging the voice of the employee.

Continue reading to find out exactly what employee voice is, why it’s so important to organizations of every size, and how to unlock it successfully.

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What is Employee Voice?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) defines employee voice as “the ability of employees to express their views, opinions, concerns, and suggestions, and for these to influence decisions at work.”

It is not simply an employee sharing their opinion every once in a while. The effective use of employee voice involves a dedicated and active strategy and accompanying program where workers can share their thoughts and have them responded to, addressed, or followed up with in a meaningful way.

Why is Employee Voice So Important?

Employee voice is a mutually beneficial entity within any organization. Not only are business leaders able to gather data and develop a better understanding of their employees and clients, but employee voice enables workers to have a true impact on the decision-making process and the organization as a whole. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the key benefits of employee voice.

Employee retention

As Albert Hirschman’s prominent academic theory explains, “Workers can do one of two things when faced with an unsatisfactory employment situation: exit the relationship (quit), or voice their concerns and try to work through their problems.” And for many people, telling leadership what they need to avoid burnout can feel harder than just giving notice.

When employees are given a chance to voice their dissatisfaction or concerns and listened to, there’s a much higher chance that they’ll stay with the organization. They’re able to provide input on the processes and structures that impact not only their day-to-day work but the overall organization. This can greatly improve their quality of life at work and job satisfaction while reducing stressors and blockers.

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices shares a case study where we can see the power of employee voice on retention and employee satisfaction in action. British community support provider, Lambeth Elfrida Rathbone Society, worked with a group of employees to devise a team-based approach to shift scheduling, protocols, and their standards of care.

They collected feedback from the employees, who shared that at the end of the program, they felt like they had more control over their schedules, teamwork had improved, and they had increased their knowledge through the regular sharing of ideas. This employee voice program resulted in the employees’ improved commitment to working at the organization, plus a “reduced intention to leave.”

Improved organizational growth

Focusing on employee voice not only helps you keep your employees happy and engaged but can mean better business results for your organization.

Senior members of a company are often quite removed from the daily interactions between employees and customers. With a focus on employee voice, leadership can gain valuable insights into their clients and customers.

For example, one of your sales development team members may be hearing the same negative feedback from multiple high-value clients. In a work environment that values and actively gathers employee voice, this employee can share these insights and warning signs and help the organization turn them into actions.

Increased knowledge sharing 

In the past, businesses tended to prioritize the voices and opinions of employees in senior positions. In a modern workplace that encourages the sharing of employee voice at every level of seniority, teams and organizations can see an increase in collective learning and knowledge building.

When employees feel confident that leadership is listening, they’re much more likely to share opinions, thoughts, concerns, and ideas. This leads to a natural diversity of thought amongst teams, which opens the door to greater opportunities for valuable discussions, learning, and collective decision-making.

Tips for Accessing Employee Voice 

An organization with a comprehensive employee voice strategy knows that there’s no single way to access employee voice. Instead, a true employee voice strategy will combine a variety of approaches and tactics for organizations to tap into the knowledge and insights of their employees. Here are a few core methods for accessing employee voice.

Employ multiple avenues of feedback 

Employers can no longer simply sit back and ask their employees to come to them with concerns. They need to take an active approach to gathering and analyzing employee voice regularly — and through multiple avenues. An IBM study found that organizations using multiple listening methods reported higher ratings for organizational performance and reputation.

While many organizations solely rely on employee engagement or pulse surveys once or twice a year, building upon these methods of collection is important. Instead of simply asking employees a few general or overly vague questions twice a year, employers must actively solicit feedback from members across the organization on a much more frequent basis (such as once a week).

In addition to traditional engagement surveys, employers can encourage the sharing of employee voice through ask-me-anything sessions, reverse town halls, employee forums, dedicated Slack channels, one-on-ones, employee focus groups, and discussion management software. A combination of these approaches, when used successfully, can help build mutual trust between employees and employers.

Active Listening

Sure, you may be hearing your employees, but are you listening? There’s a huge difference between simply hearing the words your employee is saying and truly listening and understanding their message. With active listening, the listener takes the time to listen to understand rather than listening to respond. This means that employers need to take meaningful action based upon what the employee is communicating in the workplace.

A significant part of active listening is the ability to absorb information without judgment. Managers and employers cannot respond defensively to the information they are receiving but rather need to take it in, reflect, and commit to change where necessary. This doesn’t necessarily mean they need to agree with what is being said, but they’re making an effort to understand where the employee is coming from and committing to helping them find a solution or put their ideas into action.

When practiced correctly, active listening has huge benefits for an organization. It can stop or minimize larger issues before they begin, help employees feel heard and valued, and boost team morale overall.

Encourage participation

An employee voice strategy is only as successful as the employees willing to participate. If an organization’s workers don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts or don’t believe anything will result from them communicating their ideas, the organization has failed even before it’s begun.

To kickstart an employee voice program, it’s important to recognize and show appreciation for employees who take the time to provide their feedback. We’re not suggesting you bribe workers, but simply that you offer positive reinforcement and genuine thanks when they take part. Many business experts agree that positive reinforcement is the most powerful leadership tool, so don’t be shy when praising your employees for their willingness to take part in something that could be potentially uncomfortable at first.

That said, it’s important to ensure that no employee is reprimanded for anything they share openly and honestly in a feedback session or channel (within legal and safety requirements, of course). To build this environment of safety and trust, employees must understand that even when they provide negative feedback, the information is being used in a constructive way and to improve workplace conditions for all members of the organization.

How to Unlock Employee Voice using a Technology

As mentioned above, relying only on employee surveys isn’t an effective or impactful way of unlocking employee voice. Rather than restricting what your employees can say or share with pre-filled or predetermined responses, allow a free and open sharing of employee voice with a tool like ThoughtExchange.

With ThoughtExchange, a leader poses an open-ended question to a group where they can respond anonymously. This anonymity removes any potential hesitation to participate (for fear of reprimanding) and encourages honest and thoughtful answers. Because of a naturally higher participation rate and responses that are considered uninhibited and more genuine, organizations can get a much more accurate understanding of their business — and their employees.

With ThoughtExchange, participants can upvote the responses they agree with most, find most relevant, or consider the priorities. Here, organizations can gather incredibly valuable information from the collective employee voice and analyze and measure the responses that resonate most with the group.

With a platform such as ThoughtExchange, organizations can build trusting relationships with their employees, ensure they feel heard, and put the employee voice into action.

About the Author

Dara Fontein

Dara is a copywriter and content creator born, raised, and currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s written for companies including Hootsuite, lululemon, Article, and ThoughtExchange. When not playing around with words, Dara can be found updating her cat's Instagram account and wandering the aisles of home decor stores.